Recently a fellow author and I were guest speakers at a local retirement center. One of the questions that really generated a lot of interest among the audience was about how we name our characters and where we get the names we use. One lovely lady asked me to list some of the unusual names I’ve used. I don’t have that many but – I have a heroine named Bexley who will be in an upcoming book. The most unusual hero name I’ve used is name is the one I’m working on right now. His name is Shaw – short for Goudchaux (God Shaw). His mother was Cajun French.
Choosing character names is a very personal and is driven by our likes and dislikes and our associations with certain names and the memories they call up. When I was a child I knew a little boy named Danny who was a very unpleasant kid. I knew I’d never name one of my children Danny – well guess what. By the time I was grown and considering names for our second son, the name Daniel/Danny was exactly what I wanted. I’d long forgotten about that rotten other Danny.
Some authors work very hard selecting the names of the hero and heroine. They research meanings, origins, and popularity. This can be very important especially if you write historical romance. It would be hard to read a book set in Regency times if the heroine’s name was Moonbeam. That might work better for a character in the 1970s.
As a contemporary romance writer I have more freedom in naming and I normally don’t pay attention to meanings. The names usually come to me as I’m creating each character. Only once have I had a difficult time picking a heroine’s name. I called her Rebecca, but it never quite suited her and neither did any other name. As it turned out, I never finished that book.
I usually start with a vague idea of what I want my hero to do or to be. In His Small-Town Family, the hero is a war photographer suffering from PTSD who comes to Dover to start over. I wanted something strong to reflect his job (working in war zones)yet gentle enough to show his creative side (photographer). The name Ethan came to me right away and from that moment on he was Ethan. Tall, Dark, brown eyes, a man of few words who guarded his emotions and struggled to learn how to exist without his camera as a shield between him and his emotions.
Next up the heroine. The perfect woman for him would have to be able to draw him out of his shell, and teach him how to love. Which meant she needed to be strong yet nurturing and understanding. I turned to my names file. Yep. I keep one. Every time I hear or see a name that I like or I think might work for my characters I add it to the list. I knew the moment I saw the name, Nichelle, she was the perfect one for Ethan. The name was feminine, different, and allowed for the nickname, Nicki- a strong name for the woman who would save her family’s business and save Ethan as well.
One of the things I always have to check in selecting both first and last names is how they sound together. Ethan Stone. Nichelle Latimer. Last names are trickier. Sometimes they need to be regional. If your story is set in Louisiana then there’d better be a bunch of Beaudreaux’s, Couvillions, and Guidry’s – good solid French and Cajun names. But if you’re story takes place in New England you’ll want common names from that area for you characters – unless of course they’ve been transplanted from some other place.
Not only to the names have to reflect the characters, but I have to make sure I haven’t chosen a last name for the hero that one that will result in a silly married name. Marcy Davis marries Cole Darcy and you’ve got Marcy Darcy. Or Stormy Andrews marries Tony Day and you get Stormy Day. Yikes.
I ran into a name problem recently when I had a plot line in a book that called for many townspeople to have small parts or cameos. I had to have nearly 40 names. Spending time on the main characters names, and the secondary characters takes time, but coming up with 40 random names was really hard. I try not to use names over since I’m writing a series set in a small town. Don’t want to have too many Bills. Bill the mayor, Bill the druggist, Bill the hero’s dad. Ugh.
I finally pulled out the list of choir members from my church and started down the list. One of our members is an attorney so I knew I shouldn’t use the members’ real names, so I mixed and matched first and last names. It turned out to be great fun and the members who read the book got a kick out of looking for the names.
I’d love for you to share your thoughts on names. What are some of your favorite hero and heroine’s names? Do you have some you really don’t like? Some you’d like to suggest? I’ll add them to my list. You might read that name in my book one day!